Google drops beta label from Apps and downplays freebie version

Google declares that Apps are ready for enterprise deployment

Google claims that 1.75 million businesses use Google Apps and has decided that if it wants to score more enterprises, it must stop calling the cloud-based office and e-mail suite a "beta" product. So it killed the "beta" label from Google Apps today and pronounced it a "mature" product. It only took five years. Specifically, the beta label has been officially removed from Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk. Additionally, Google has promised to release increased e-mail management tools over the next few weeks and is talking up its resources to help enterprises migrate from Exchange or Lotus Notes to Apps.

As for the new e-mail management features, Google promises its would-be enterprise customers (which Google considers to be 50 seats or more), that it is adding replication of messaging data stores among various Google data centers, the ability to delegate e-mail accounts to assistants, and to set e-mail retention policies. It is not announcing an increase in price at this time. Google charges $50/per user for users of its Premier edition. The Google blog states:

" ... to help customers comply with regulations that may exist specific to their industry, we're adding email retention so that IT administrators can set up policies to determine when email will be purged. Both retention and delegation are in testing with customers, and will start rolling out to all Premier edition domains over the next weeks."

Curiously, Seeking Alpha notes that Google seems to be implying that the free version of Google Apps, Standard edition, will be going bye-bye, though Google has already denied this. The blog reports:

"The free version of Google Apps is history. The current sign up page makes no mention of the previously free Standard edition. Instead, new users get a 14 day free trial, and then must pay $50 per user per year after that trial. Google Apps is a suite of online applications like gmail, Google calendar, Google Docs, etc. that are packaged and tailored for business use."

Google says the missing Standard edition was just a mistake, according to Techcrunch:

Google responded, saying "In experimenting with a number of different landing page layouts, the link to Standard Edition was inadvertently dropped from one of the variations. We are in the process of restoring it and you should see it soon. We have no intention of eliminating Google Apps Standard Edition, and are sorry for the confusion." ... Translation: they are trying to get more users to pay by making the Standard version harder to find. In that they succeeded brilliantly, but were obviously a little overzealous in hiding it.

So is this a hint that Google wants to stop offering for free to businesses software that it thinks is ready for the enterprise? Perhaps. Note that the freebie package of Google wares and third-party apps, Google Pack, which includes Google Apps (and still holds the beta label) has NOT been converted to pay-only software. It is still readily available. (Google Pack consists of Chrome, Google Apps -- Gmail, Calendar, Docs -- Spyware Doctor, Picasa, Adobe Reader, Skype, Google Earth, Google Toolbar for IE, Norton Security Scan, Google Desktop, Google Photos Screensaver, Google Talk and RealPlayer.)

And certainly, if Google does charge money for Apps for new business users, it likely won't be doing so for the Education edition. Education is an interesting market to attack. Talk to most users in that vertical and you'll find they are fairly happy with Microsoft, at least from a pricing standpoint. So Google, flush with cash from its advertising stronghold, competes on price anyway. Google Apps Education is free, though often these users will wind up paying for auxiliary services such as Google's Postini anti-spam service. (Read a case study of how The Prince George's County Public School System near Washington, D.C. migrated from Microsoft Exchange servers complete with SANs to Google Apps.)

For an overview of the features in each version of Google Apps, click on the picture below to launch an explanation video from Google (requires flash).

Want more resources to help you convert to Google Apps from Exchange or Notes? Check out ...

Google's Enterprise Pilot Guide

Google's Deployment checklists

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